Today is Friday the 13th November, and depending on your beliefs you either didn’t notice or were acutely aware of the date looming on the calendar. The date has long been considered unlucky, with many ascribing misfortunes on the calendar rarity.
Fear of Friday the 13th has produced a 19th century secret society, a bestselling novel and, of course one of the biggest horror franchises in cinema history. It’s part of pop culture, yet many people still report fear and anxiety around it. But where did this superstition begin, and what impact has it had throughout the years? Do more terrifying things actually occur on this specific day? We’re going to dive into the topic of Friday the 13th, the history and traditions surrounding the date and why it remains feared today.
The number 13 has been associated with darkness and evil for centuries. Historic Christian cultures considered number 12 to represent completeness – including the 12 months of the year and the 12 days of Christmas. Other cultures also featured 12, including the 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus and 12 tribes of Israel. As such, number 13 symbolised something gone wrong – in the bible there were 13 guests present in the last supper, one of whom would betray Jesus.
Because of the link to the last supper, it was a common superstition that 13 guests should never attend a dinner, as one would be fated to die.
In 19th century America, Friday also happened to be the day on which executions took place.
Friday also has biblical connotations of darkness and death. Christians believe that Jesus was killed on a Friday, and that Friday was the day Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit.
In the 19th century, the public began to question long held superstitions. New Yorker Captain William Fowler (1827-1897) sought to remove the enduring stigma surrounding the number 13—and particularly the unwritten rule about not having 13 guests at a dinner table—by founding an exclusive society called the Thirteen Club.
The club exclusively dined on the 13th of the month, with 13 guests in attendance at Knickerbocker Cottage. Four former U.S. presidents (Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt) would join the Thirteen Club’s ranks at one time or another.
In 1907 Thomas William Lawson published his novel Friday the 13th. The book told the story of a sinister stockbroker who uses public fear of the infamous date to influence Wall Street. But of course the most famous reflection in pop culture is the franchise of horror films featuring Jason Voorhees killing teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake. The first entry in the series released in 1980, and quickly became a cult classic. To this day the series is one of the most successful in movie history, spawning countless video games, comic books and costumes.
Depending on how superstitious you are, you might view some tragic events occuring on Friday the 13th as indications of its unluckiness. Some would certainly argue that this is simply coincidence and that terrible events occur on many different dates. The list of incidents occuring on Friday the 13th includes German bombing of Buckingham Palace (September 1940); the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York (March 1964); a cyclone that killed more than 300,000 people in Bangladesh (November 1970); the disappearance of a Chilean Air Force plane in the Andes (October 1972); the death of rapper Tupac Shakur (September 1996) and the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, which killed 30 people (January 2012).